By Johanna Voutounou
LOS ANGELES, CA – For the past three years, Greeks from all over Southern California gather at Long Beach Harbor to embark on a four-day cruise along the coast of California to Baja, Mexico. This annual event is known as My Big Fat Greek Vacation.
Eros Tours along with Carnival Cruise lines hosts this extremely popular excursion. Eros Tours owner Kika Polidemou says that this year’s “Greek Cruise” was extra special, thanks to the large number of Greek families who participated and the added cruise activities catering to the Greek community.
The cruise itinerary includes a special welcome dinner for all Greek guests. The Captain greets families as they enter the dinning room and reminisces about his many years sailing cruise boats around the Greek Isles. Several guests share the same nostalgic memories of spending their summers island hopping in Greece. Although this cruise will not be setting sail for magical Santorini, the sunset from the dinning room is equally as spectacular.
The next morning the ship arrives on Catalina Island. Only 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles, this island has been an escape for Angelinos since the Gold Rush, when rich developers turned this uninhabited island into a resort. This secluded island getaway with two small harbors that are teeming with wild life has been a haven for Hollywood stars since the beginning of motion pictures. In more recent history, the island made headlines when actress Natalie Wood drowned under questionable circumstances while vacationing on the island.
Yachts and sailboats bounce on the waves as the cruise ship floats into the idyllic harbor. Families are invited to take a walking tour of the island or join one of the adventure excursions that have been hand picked by Eros Tours for the Greek cruisers. Lorena Papas’ large family are celebrating her 60th birthday by taking this cruise together. Some of her family have traveled from Chicago just to take this cruise with her. They now all gathered on the only sandy strip of beach that is located outside of the Catalina Yacht Club. A young instructor is teaching them how to paddle a kayak. Lorena say “Kayaking has been on my bucket list and I was thrilled when I found out that the Greek Cruise offered it as one of their package excursions.” The two-hour guided kayaking tour has Lorena’s family and four other Greek families follow an expert guide through the lush kelp forests that surround the island. Bright orange fish glide around the kayaks and pelicans swoop in from their rocky perch to join the group. The tour ends with a picnic lunch on a secluded shore where guests are invited to jump into the crystal clear waters for a refreshing dip.
For those who have decided to remain on the ship a lively “hairiest chest” contest is taking place by the pool. Men of all ages are dancing shirtless in front of a panel of judges as dance music blares. Squeals of laughter from the audience egg on the participants. “My dad has an advantage,” giggles 15 year-old Nina, who points out her enthusiastic, hairy father, “he’s Greek!”
As the ship sets sail that evening and heads down the coast towards Mexico, families gather in the Paris Lounge for a game of Bingo followed by a variety show hosted by the Cruise manager, Jeff. Although the cruise has over 1200 guests, Jeff asks who was participating in the “My Big Fat Greek Vacation” and the ballroom erupts in applause. He yells “OPA” in response. After the show, the list of evening activities is endless and guests can choose from the casino, cocktails in the lounge, the nightclub, fiesta pool party, the midnight buffet or to take a dip in the 24 hour Jacuzzi located in the Serenity Lounge. Melina from Washington who heard about the Greek cruise from her cousin who lives in Los Angeles is heading to the steam room after dropping her children off at the Kid’s Club to watch a movie. “There is something for everyone!” she exclaims. The Kid’s Club is a complementary 24-hour babysitting service that has a variety of activities for kids of all ages. Including a teen dance party, an ice cream social and make your own teddy craft time.
The next morning the ship arrives in Ensenada, Mexico and participants of the Greek Cruise, board their own private air-conditioned bus that takes them to the famous La Bufadora. This marine geyser is the result of air, trapped in a sea cave, exploding upward when an ocean wave rushes in. The blowhole is located on the tip of the Punta Banda Peninsula. The ride is long but breathtaking views of the ocean from the narrow cliff-hugging road make the trip worth it. After viewing the largest blowhole in North America guests are then released into to the enormous flea market that is made up of hundreds of shops selling Mexican trinkets, crafts, clothing and toys. Before guests board the bus back to the ship they are treated to some local cuisine, fish tacos piled high with sour cream and guacamole, washed down by a Corona.
Back on the ship for a day at sea, the Greek Cruise hits its peak with a Mediterranean buffet that includes some Greek favorites. Moussaka, spanakopita and an array of dips with toasted pita and Greek salad. A Greek passenger named John draws a crowd when he pulls out his bouzouki and plays a tune. This is his third year on the cruise and his favorite part is sitting on the deck with new friends both Greek and non-Greek playing music. He sings a Greek folk song about sailing on the sea and breathing in the salty air.
On the horizon, Los Angeles begins to appear and the Greek Cruise is drawing to an end. However for John and all the other Greeks on their Big Fat Greek Vacation, the only thing on their mind is the salty air.